Back From College: J. Cole is My Childhood Best Friend    

“MCs shouldn’t put out albums unless they have something to say.” -Ed Lover

 

Sometimes my childhood is a blur. Especially high school. I remember my senior year most vividly because, frankly, it’s the only year I was focused. I skated thru school doing just enough to never get held back but doing more than enough to make it photo finish. Skipping classes, getting suspended, chasing girls, leaving campus midday to go “pray”… ok that was wrong but the point is I was moving at such a reckless pace that it’s all kind of lumped together. I had my circle of friends that did the same things, probably not as much as me, but for the most part we had the same routines. I overdid it. I tend to overdo things. My circle of friends had been there, mostly since elementary school or 6th grade so they understood who I was. They accepted me. They told me when I got too close to the gun line most times but I always had to test the limits. Almost all of those friends, are still my friends today, but some of the relationships have changed. I left for Chicago my Senior year, determined to save my own life {the irony of going to Chicago for this}, and that’s exactly what happened. Originally from a small town, Albany, Ga, moving to Chicago was the culture shock I needed. Not only that, I needed that time away from my friends, the positive influencing ones and the ones who went along with my habitual line stepping. I came home briefly after my basketball season {this was always the plan}, to graduate with those friends, but that fall I would head right back to Chicago for college. I’d never fully move back, no matter how much I had to visit. J. Cole is one of those friends that I would always see when I came back home.

It’s rare that people are consistently who they’ve always been. In most cases, including in the case of this hypothetical friend, being the person who stays the same is honorable. In Hip-Hop it’s a case by case basis. What makes J. Cole this friend is because I’m realizing, while I still love my friend just as much, I still enjoy one of those random hour conversations we have every year or two, me and J. Cole just don’t relate how we used to. That’s ok. K.O.D., J. Cole’s latest album, confirms this for me. Coming off of the first personally disappointing project from him, 4 Your Eyez Only, my expectations were very low for this album. He exceeded those. Thankfully. However, it’s still a sadness as I write this. That sadness of when that best friend from back home calls, and I have time to talk but I don’t have time to talk to him. In high school and college, we had all the same interests, ambitions, and struggles. We wanted the fly sneakers, the bad chicks that everybody couldn’t get next to, the same struggles to stay focused on class in the midst of trying to live, and the same dollar menu struggle because we had to stretch $25 for 6 more days. Now not so much.

 

Image result for j. cole nigga from the ville

After 2 years of college, 2006-2008, I moved with my mom to Raleigh, NC. As much as I enjoyed the time, I wasn’t ready to swim in Chicago by myself, not without parents or family there to finance or police me. Searching for anything to enjoy, after moving to Raleigh from the big city, Cole was like a God send. Not only could I relate to his heavy “college teen trying to figure it out” subject matter, Fayetteville is an hour from Raleigh. The living experience in both cities, so similar, I saw the pictures he was painting even clearer. I stan’d for Cole to my friends who weren’t on him yet. This is prime Jeezy era by the way. Everybody “back home” was in THAT mode. I was too, but I’ve always been heavily lyric driven and East Coast rap based and Cole gave me all of that to balance out the Jeezy. Coming from Chicago where Kanye, Common, and Lupe dominated my last three years also helped. It was the perfect marriage. And the boy can rap. He was my metaphorical best friend. Now I’m knocking on 30 years old and Cole is still that same friend.

Light skin Jermaine {another pointless similarity between me and Cole; Jermaine is my middle name} has done well for himself. When I came home, I saw my friend has his own business, a loving wife, a kid, and a nice house BUT… he hasn’t travelled outside of our small hometown much. Most of our conversations are almost solely about those high school and college summer escapades. It’s always good to reminisce but I was trying to talk to him about the stock market and he looked at me like I was speaking Japanese. I tried to talk to him about how great Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy book is, and he proudly admitted he hasn’t picked a book up since college. I tried to ask him about married life because I haven’t come close to it yet and he told me how his girl is the same crazy girl she was when we were in high school and she heard he was cheating with a girl in the locker room. “Man it ain’t no different. Nothing changed.” I tried to talk to him about real estate and he asked me, “What a man need with two houses? That’s two sets of bills.” The funny part is, he’s such a funny storyteller, that I’m still drawn in by way he details all of this stuff that used to happen. It’s still funny when he tells me how her face looked when he came to her job to apologize / beg the next day. I end up with 5 missed calls and 10 unread texts by the time I hang up the phone from that hour conversation. I get off the call and the first thought is “damn, I just blew an hour”. J. Cole is my childhood best friend.

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The title track, “K.O.D.”, has such an unfamiliar knock from what we normally get from Kay’s son that it immediately draws you. Pissed off it seems, he didn’t come to play. It’s almost like he’s going for a first-round knockout. Living up to a tough standard he’s set with amazing intros like “Too Deep for the Intro” and “January 28”, he gets right to business here. Displaying the pure art of exceptional rap while showing that he can dance effortlessly with a familiar flow that is dominating the culture. “Photograph” starts amazing to me, then the repetitiveness of it… becomes… repetitive. Between “The Cut Off” and “Motiv8” you get some hot lines, he didn’t really make hot songs. It doesn’t get great again, FOR ME, until “Brackets”. This is when my best friend calls me to talk to me about the write-offs from his business and how the new tax plan is going to help and hurt him. We empathize with each other of a levy of taxes that’s astronomical while seeing no change in the neighborhood in the right direction. Potholes are bigger, the school we went to hasn’t been upgraded since we were there, and to make matters more frustrating, we have to keep paying more and more every year. Now taxes isn’t some groundbreaking new subject matter, but it’s more relative to our lives now than another memory about when we had a dollar and a dream. “Once an Addict” is heartfelt perspective of a kid that’s watching infidelity, domestic, and drug abuse. Friends is the most direct tap into one of the interpretations of the album title’s acronym, Kids On Drugs, where he’s talking to a friend he’s trying to convince to find another way to deal with life’s hardships than rolling up the next blunt or popping the next pill. Very much needed message and his skill for rapping better than most of the field is on full display. Closing out strong with “Window Pain” and “1985 {I don’t care much about who’s he’s addressing because he didn’t say a name or Candyman}” is why I say he exceeded my low expectations. He gave his base what they want from him. He gave the casual listener a strong product that appears to be the prequel to another one. My knock is just that he’s my childhood best friend.

“And that’s a phony a**, lonely a**, Cole is what you know me as but we far from homies, if you know my mama, you know me” – J. Cole

I didn’t learn much about Jermaine, I know Cole. Nor did I get a new perspective from this album on the 2017/2018 experience in America that I haven’t seen already. I didn’t get enough response to him coming off of his critically least received album. I got better drums, a little more bounce, and some real familiar nostalgic conversations. Some of these records will live in rotation for a while but this project as a whole won’t live in rotation like Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap has since February. It won’t live in rotation like Jay-Z’s 4:44 or Rick Ross’ Rather You Than Me has. Those albums serve as friends I made in business school. Not better friends just more involved in similar things at this stage in our lives. When me and my childhood best friend was both trying to meet up with girls at the college one city over, we had more to talk about. If retweets were Mics, I’d give K.O.D. 3.5 retweets, but I honestly expect more from him. I don’t think this pushes the envelope nor does it push him higher than Kendrick and Drake. It almost seems that he’s comfortable not challenging them for the throne anymore, critically, because commercially he does well enough and his base doesn’t require him to come out of his comfort zone. “Platinum with no features” became so trendy that there’s no steel sharpening going on via dope collaborations. But this was a good conversation with my childhood best friend, now let me get to these missed calls and unread messages.

-Travis Cochran

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